Much is being made of the fact that Friday Night Football is coming to our television screens (if we have Sky TV), in the form of Manchester United vs Southampton, and the fans are protesting.
Basically, I’m on their side. The new contract, allowing for ten Friday night Premiership matches in 2016/17, means that live televised football now takes place on every single day of the week. Fans who go to games are, once again, getting screwed in the process: there are hundreds of regular Southampton fans who turn up for the away trips to Old Trafford who are being forced to miss the game, because the last train back home leaves 35 minutes before the final whistle.
And it takes me back, back to 1992, when the newly-formed Premier League, signed up to Sky for the first time, went to its first Monday night game. Which was the reverse fixture, Southampton vs Manchester United, at the old Dell.
There wasn’t half the screaming then, even though the traveling United fans were in the same boat as the Southamptonians will be tonight. Not all of that was down to the classic lack of sympathy the vast majority of fans have towards United, nor the jokes that it made no difference, they all live on the South Coast anyway. It was more that those who could afford Sky, or were prepared to put up with going down the pub of an evening to watch, were happy to have more live football available.
Those of us who remember the antediluvian days, pre-the Premier League, pre-Sky, will remember that it had taken until the back half of the Eighties to get live League football on TV. The two networks had different times: ITV’s like matches went out at 2.00pm on Sunday, the BBC’s at 7.30pm on Friday night. The incredible finale in 1989, the post-Hillsborough Liverpool v Arsenal game that decided the League on the last kick, was on BBC1, on Friday night.
And it’s not like we’ve not had Friday night Football since then: Sky have been running Championship matches in that slot for ages, without the same kind of fuss.
So whilst I support the aggrieved fans, I can’t share the outrage which, though entirely valid, is being expressed not in a losing cause but in a cause lost twenty-four years ago. In a way, I’ve almost admired Sky for nailing its colours to the mast in such a forthright manner, by selecting as its debut Monday Night Match a game that so inconvenienced the away supporters. It stated, plainly, that it’s attitude was FTF – Fuck The Fans. And it’s been that way ever since.
Tonight’s selection is probably not a deliberate reminder of that initial game – it’s probably far more to do with Jose Mourinho’s first competitive match as United manager at home, and the first start of the world’s most expensive player, Paul Pogba – but by its nature it’s a doubly-symbolic gesture. Who gives a toss about the Southampton fans? Certainly not Sky’s TV audience, who see themselves as the fans whose interests have to be put first: there are many more of them, after all, and those primitives who still, bizarrely, want to go to live games, should get over themselves and their sense of entitlement.
Either way, I shalln’t be watching. I’ve made my position plain in respect of Mourinho and there’s going to be precious little live United TV for me this season, not until semi-finals at least. Anyway, I’m going out for a meal with my mates tonight.
Friday Night Football is here to stay. It’s not like it’s a breakthrough, the way Thursday night football was. It’s been around before, when the balance was more finely set. When there was a balance. If it makes Sky money, it’ll stay.
And FTF. Especially the ones getting out of Old Trafford at about 10.00pm tonight and making tracks for Southampton. You – and we – are on the wrong side of history. We are the army of the defeated, who don’t know when to stop fighting, eve when stopping fighting, forcing football to be played in empty grounds, without sound or atmosphere, is the only weapon we have left in our hands.
The ultimate weapon, the Deterrent, the Nuclear Option.
Finally, we reach the last complete decade of the FA Cup’s history, taking it to the competition’s 140thAnniversary and its 130th Final. It was a decade of decay and degradation, as the elements that made the Cup special were stripped away. For many years, the League Cup had been the tournament that teams failed to take seriously, playing reserves and juniors without thought of progressing, and saving their strongest sides for the League. In this decade, the same approach began to take over the Cup.
Once, a Cup run was a wonderful distraction from a dismal relegation struggle. Now, with the monetary perils of relegation grown life-threatening, a Cup run was the last thing a manager wanted if he had his eye set on keeping his job. And, with the ‘Big Four’ having more or less cornered the Final, what price the unforgettable run of glory?
In 2002, in the fourth London Derby Final, Arsenal emulated Manchester United by completing a Third Double. The Double was once so rare that, in the first 114 years of the Cup, it had only been achieved five times: indeed, until 1961 it had long been thought impossible given the longer League programmes of the Twentieth Century. But a further five Doubles had been completed in only nine years, and they had been shared by only two teams. Many thought that the Double had been devalued, and it’s hard not to think that they’re right, but what it was was another demonstration of the way Football itself was coming under the domination of a handful of teams, made rich by television money and establishing an informal, yet unbreakable hierarchy under which all trophies were slowly becoming the exclusive province of a tiny number of Clubs. After all, Arsenal’s Double was their second in five years, which meant they’d beaten Manchester United to the Premier League title. But United had already won seven of the ten Premierships played.
But winning the Cup was traditionally the completion of the Double. The ever-increasing improvements in ground maintenance had all but done away with match day postponements through water-logged and frozen pitches, and television’s influence on the fixture list had long since prompted a strict adherence to ending the League programme(s) the weekend before Cup Final day.
Not this year. For a second successive season, a final round of Premier League games was scheduled for after the Cup Final. Arsenal still had to play Manchester United, needing a win to secure the League, and they achieved that at Old Trafford. Sky’s pet competition was now the great wrap-up to a football year.
Terrestrial coverage of the Final reverted to the BBC after three years of ITV.
And Arsenal were back at Cardiff twelve months later to win the Cup again. It was their third successive Final appearance, and they became the only club to reach a hat trick of Finals twice, having already achieved this between 1978 and 1980. Their opponents were Southampton, appearing in their first Final for twenty-seven years but unable to duplicate their success as a Second Division club. Both clubs defeated second-tier opposition in the semi-finals.
This was the first Final to be played indoors: due to rain, the retractable roof of the Millennium Stadium was closed. The artificiality of the proceedings, which meant that the game was played wholly under artificial light (on a Saturday afternoon!), removing the spectacle yet further from football as we know it, increasingly attempting to pursue a sterile, plastic perfection.
It was the first time since Tottenham Hotspur in 1982 that the holders retained the Cup the following season, and only the tenth such instance in the Cup’s history.
Arsenal’s successive wins had put them only one behind Manchester United, but the Reds made their first Final appearance at the Milliennium Stadium in 2004, extending their Cup record to eleven wins by defeating First-Time Finalists, Millwall 3-0. Millwall were the first team outside the top tier since Sunderland in 1992 to reach the Final, ironically beating the Wearsiders – also of Division One – in the semi-final, but dreams of glory were easily dispelled. Millwall player-manager Dennis Wise suffered at United’s hands for a second time, having been captain of the Chelsea side beaten by United in the Final ten years previously. United became the first and only team to be awarded, and score penalties in three different Finals (which will not surprise those who feel that United have had an exceptional favourable deal with referees for far too long). All three penalties have been scored by non-British players, Ruud van Nistlerooy making it two Dutchmen and a Frenchman.
Millwall substitute Curtis Weston set a record as the youngest player ever in a Cup Final when he came on in the 89th minute. At 17 years 119 days, he broke the record set in 1879 by James Prinsep of Clapham Rovers by 126 days.
Millwall’s appearance made them the fifty-fourth team to reach the Cup Final and the ninth team to have lost on their only appearance. Bizarrely, they were the fourth such to suffer this fate against Manchester United, joining Bristol City (1909), Brighton (1983) and Crystal Palace (1990).
To receive and parade the Cup, the Manchester United team all donned shirts bearing the name and squad number of promising midfielder Jimmy Davies, who had died in a car accident in the opening month of the season.
From the moment that Cup Final replays were abolished in 1999, all true Cup fans and purists feared that the day would come when the Cup would be decided by the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. And six years after that fateful decision, it duly occurred. The 2005 Final, between Manchester United, the holders and record-holders, and Arsenal, in their fourth Final in five years, and second in the record tables, ended goalless at the Millennium Stadium, and Arsenal lifted the Cup when United’s Paul Scholes saw his penalty saved.
I hated it. Not the losing: I have witnesses to prove that, as extra-time wore down, I was openly willing for Arsenal to score, if that was what it took to avoid that indignity. A penalty shoot-out is a horrible way to end any game, but especially to win a trophy, and even more so this trophy, the original, the very first, the Cup of Cups. Once again, the Cup was diminished, because its defenders were not prepared to defend it.
The game itself, between two such well-matched team, was astonishingly one-sided, with United battering Arsenal for 120 minutes but only putting the ball in the net once, from an offside position. This was the first, and thankfully only time since 1912 that the Final had ended goalless, and it also featured only the second sending off in the Final, when Arsenal’s Jose Antonio Reyes received a second yellow card in the last second of extra-time.
Again and again, we see the Cup’s penchant for ironic reverses: only two players have been sent off in Finals, one for Manchester United, the other, exactly twenty years later, against Manchester United.
But it had been done: penalties had been needed. The Cup had been spoiled yet further, and twelve months later, it happened all over again.
The 2006 Final was the sixth to be played in Cardiff. Originally, the deal had been for three years, and then five, but uncertainty as to whether New Wembley would be ready in time for a slightly earlier than usual Final forced the Cup’s exile to endure another season.
En route to Cardiff, there were a few surprises. For a second successive season, Manchester United were held to a goalless draw in the Third Round against lowly opposition, this time Football Conference side Burton Albion. But their hopes of a third successive Final appearance were dashed by defeat in the Fifth Round to Liverpool, the latter’s first Cup win over United in the 85 years since their first such meeting.
With England having qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany – the tournament that Manchester United’s defection in 2000 was supposed to secure – the FA acceded to manager Sven-Goran Eriksen’s request to bring forward the Final date by moving the Sixth Round into mid-week. It was another rare instance of an all top-tier quarter-final stage, and Liverpool’s 7-0 win away to Birmingham City was one of the biggest victory margins ever at this stage.
Liverpool’s opponents in Cardiff were West Ham United, playing their first Final in twenty-six years, an event sadly recalled by the death of then manager John Lyall, six days before the semi-final.
The Final was one of the most thrilling games in modern times, with unfancied West Ham taking a two-goal lead, and regaining it after Liverpool fought back to equalise. They were clinging on into added time when Liverpool captain Steve Gerrard hit a screaming shot from thirty-five yards to secure extra-time. When that ended without further score, a second successive penalty shoot-out was required. This time, the full allocation of penalties was not needed and Liverpool won 3-1.
By 2007, the New Wembley was open and available for Cup Finals and Internationals. It had taken twice as long as anticipated to build, and cost several billions more than budgeted. The FA were now concerned about getting in money to service their debts. After years of reluctant resistance, the FA wore paper-thin and accepted sponsorship for the Cup.
At first, it was genteel, and shame-faced: The FA Cup, sponsored by E.ON. But everybody knew it was only a matter of time before the World’s oldest trophy would be purloined to shill for an advertiser too stupid to understand that they were contributing to destroying the worth of the trophy they sought to get a hit off.
There was a throwback to ancient times in the Second Round, when Bury beat Chester City, only to be expelled for fielding an ineligible player, but the remainder of the competition proceeded without notable incident and the Final paired Premier League Champions Manchester United, playing their third Final in four years, with the League Cup Winners, Chelsea. United were bidding to extend their Cup-winning record, and to secure an unprecedented Fourth Double, whilst Chelsea were looking to become only the third club to do the domestic Cup Double.
To celebrate the opening of the new Stadium, above which the famous, elegant and iconic Twin Towers had been replaced by an illuminated, angled arch, a parade was held before the game, featuring one player from every Empire Stadium Final between 1959 and 2000.
In the event, after the extravaganza of 2006, the Final was a crashing bore. Both teams played in a cagey manner, but the New Wembley turf was a major factor, being heavy and lifeless, and cutting up quickly. In the end, Chelsea became the first Cup-Winners at the New Wembley, as they had been the last Winners at the Old Wembley, again winning 1-0, with a Didier Drogba goal four minutes from the end of extra-time, and preventing the monstrous indignity of the third consecutive penalty shoot-out.
It was by far and away the worst Cup Final I have ever watched, and I again have witnesses to confirm that after 80 minutes, I said that if the FA had any guts, they would walk onto the field, confiscate the ball and call off the Final, on the grounds that neither team deserved to win it, playing like this.
For the last seventeen seasons, every Cup Final had featured one of the ‘Big Four’ clubs. For none of them to even feature in the semi-finals (only Manchester United and Chelsea even reached the Sixth Round) marked the 2007/08 Cup out as something different and therefore, for a season at least, special. This was a year in which its traditional role as the great leveller was back in force.
Leeds United, once giants of the game, had slipped into the third tier for the first time ever: they played in the First Round at Hereford, and lost their home replay. Both Havant & Waterlooville and Chasetown played in the Third Round for the first time ever. Chasetown are the lowest tier club ever to reach this stage, then playing in the Midland Alliance, a feeder League to the Southern League, at the ninth tier. The club enjoyed its record gate but were beaten at home by the eventual Finalists, Cardiff City, who, in a wonderful gesture, invited the Staffordshire club to play the first official game at their new stadium, in the following July.
Havant went one better. Also drawn against Welsh opposition in Swansea City, they reached the Fourth Round with a splendid 4-2 replay victory, though they then lost 5-2 at Liverpool.
On a more prosaic level, Manchester United were drawn against Aston Villa in the Third Round for the second successive season and the fourth time in seven seasons.
But the quarter-finals produced a round of shocks, without a replay being required, producing a semi-final line-up consisting of only one Premier League club, and three second tier teams. For a moment, it looked like the unthinkable – an all second tier Final – might be on, but Portsmouth, who had beaten Manchester United, put out West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City defeated Barnsley, who had put out Chelsea (and Liverpool before them).
Having rejoiced in the unpredictability of this season’s competition, the Press reversed itself and started spreading doom and gloom about the prospects of a Final without a Big Four club to ‘guarantee’ quality (did they even watch the 2007 Final?). Both Finalists had won the Cup once before, Portsmouth in 1939, who had held it for the longest period ever, and Cardiff in 1927, the only time the Cup had left England.
It was, of course, an irony that they should reach the Final again, only two years after it had left their city.
In order to service their debts, the FA decided as of this season to move all semi-finals to Wembley, permanently. It was particularly inappropriate in this of all seasons, with the frisson the fans experienced at a return after so long an absence being dissipated in advance, but what cared the FA for their prize? In the end, status told, with Portsmouth scoring the only goal and qualifying for European competition for the first time ever.
Not that it did them much good. The Club suffered crippling financial problems within a year, went into administration twice, and slid down the Leagues to the fourth tier within five seasons. They are now debt-free, and the largest Club in England to be owned by their fans through a Supporters Trust.
Cardiff are, to date, the last second tier team to reach the Cup Final. And, despite the Press carping about an unappealing Final, Portsmouth vs Cardiff holds the record for the highest attendance in a New Wembley Cup Final.
It was back to business in 2008/09, however. The Cup began with its highest ever number of participants, 762 clubs entering, although one club folded before the competition started, making the actual intake 761. Remember that in 1871/72, only fifteen teams thought to enter this new Cup?
The First Round featured some notable non-League successes, with Curzon Ashton beating Exeter City, four levels above them, whilst Blyth Spartans, Droylsden and Histon overcame clubs two levels higher.
In the Second Round, Droylsden were drawn away to Chesterfield, resulting in the first tie since the introduction of penalty shoot-outs to go to more than two games. The original tie was abandoned at half-time, with Droylsden 1-0 up, due to fog, and when re-played resulted in a 2-2 draw. The replay was abandoned due to floodlight failure with twenty minutes remaining and Chesterfield 2-0 up, and when this game was re-played, Droylsden won 2-1, to reach the Third Round for the first time ever.
The club were then expelled for fielding an ineligible player in their eventual win. The player – who had scored both Droylsden goals – was suspended thanks to a yellow card received in the first, fog-abandoned game, and the club had designated the match from which he was to be suspended the day before the floodlight-abandoned game. In the rush to rearrange the tie again, no-one noticed that the suspension now fell on that additional match.
Histon and Blyth won their Second Round ties, the former beating Leeds United, but were knocked out in the Third Round.
Television rights to FA Cup coverage had once again returned to ITV, whilst the short-lived Setanta outbid Sky for the satellite coverage, but the terrestrial broadcaster was involved in controversy during live coverage of the Fourth Round replay of Everton v Liverpool, cutting to commercials before the final whistle and missing the game’s only goal.
Unlike the previous season, the semi-finals featured three of the ‘Big Four’, with Chelsea beating Arsenal and Manchester United knocked out on penalties after a goalless draw with Everton. It was United’s first defeat in the semi-final since 1970, bringing to an end a run of thirteen semi-final successes.
The Final began with a shock, as Louis Saha beat Roberto di Matteo’s Wembley record, scoring the fastest Cup Final goal after only twenty-five seconds (so fast, I missed it, turning the TV on fractionally late). It also beat the all-time record, set by Bob Chatt, for Aston Villa in 1895, which had taken thirty seconds. It was of no avail: this was the business as usual year and Chelsea recovered to win 2-1.
This was the first year in which the current arrangement whereby teams can name seven substitutes, though still only introduce three, featured in the Cup Final.
For a second successive season, 762 teams entered the FA Cup, and for a second successive season, one folded before playing, although as they were not due to enter the Cup until the First Qualifying Round, this resulted in their opponents being awarded a walkover.
In the Third Round, Manchester United were knocked out at home by Leeds United, still of the third tier. It was their first Third Round defeat since the upset at Bournemouth twenty-six years earlier, in 1984, as holders, and their first Cup defeat by lower opposition since that same game.
With Liverpool also defeated at that stage, and Arsenal following suit in the Fourth Round, only holders Chelsea remained of the ‘Big Four’. They would go all the way to Wembley, facing the 2008 Winners, Portsmouth.
The club’s fortunes were radically different. Chelsea had secured the Premier League and became the seventh Team to complete the Double, as well as becoming only the fifth club to win successive Cup Finals. Portsmouth, in administration, were already relegated, having incurred a nine point penalty deduction. They were the first first tier team to enter administration, and given that almost every Premier League club operated at a loss, there were fears of a domino effect that never, thankfully, materialised.
The Final was significant for the first, and only to date, in which both teams were awarded penalties, and the first in which two penalties were not scored. Kevin-Prince Boateng’s shot, to give Portsmouth the lead, was saved, but Frank Lampard’s late effort, to increase Chelsea’s lead, missed the target, the first Final penalty to do so since Charlie Wallace for Aston Villa in 1913. Like Wallace, Lampard’s team won 1-0, thanks to a goal by Didier Drogba.
Drogba became only the second player, after Ian Rush, to score in three different Finals. Chelsea defender Ashley Cole also set a personal record by winning his sixth Winners Medal. No other player has won the Cup as often.
Structural changes to the UEFA Cup saw it adopt a group format similar to that of the Champions League with effect from the 2010/11 season. Chelsea’s League Title meant that they qualified for the Champions League, but Portsmouth’s financial status saw them denied a licence to compete in Europe and they were thus denied a Europa League place based on their status as runners-up.
As the last completed decade of the FA Cup’s history came to an end, there were the first signs that the so-called ‘Big Four’ might have to be redefined as a ‘Big Five’. For the second time in four years, none of them reached the Final, Manchester United losing in the semi-final again. But oil money was transforming, had transformed their neighbours, Manchester City, who inflicted that defeat on United, and who were clearly going to be a much greater force in football than they had ever before been in their often-chequered history.
There was a slight drop in entrants for this latest season, to 759, though 806 clubs in all applied for entry. FC United of Manchester, the Club formed by Manchester United supporters grown frustrated with the ever-increasing corporatisation of football, and spurred on by United’s takeover by American businessmen, reached the First Round for the first time in only their sixth season of existence, beating League opposition in Rochdale in a live televised match. They would then draw League One leaders Brighton away in the Second Round, with the Seasiders requiring a late equaliser to avoid being knocked out, before comprehensively winning the replay, 4-0.
Droylsden, in the Second Round for only the third time in their history, led Leyton Orient 2-0 away with only twenty minutes of their replay left, but crumbled as Orient first forced extra-time, then added six more goals to finished 8-2 winners.
Crawley Town of the Conference reached the Fifth Round before losing to Manchester United at Old Trafford, by 1-0. They were the first non-League club to reach this stage since Blyth Spartans in 1994.
The semi-finals were an all-Premier League affair, with the Manchester Derby out-glamourising the tie between Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City. The latter’s comprehensive 5-0 win saw them reach their first Cup Final, the first First-Time Finalist since Millwall in 2004. A single goal by Yaya Toure took City to their first Final in twenty years, and the same player scored the only goal of the Final, to bring the club to its first Cup Win since 1969, ending an overall trophy drought that had lasted thirty-five years (as celebrated visually at Old Trafford).
Stoke, as runners-up, became the first English team to qualify for the Europa League via the FA Cup.
But it was not the game but its scheduling that marked another step along the long road of decline. For once, the situation was forced upon the FA rather than of their increasingly spineless, money-fixated making. The 2011 European Champions League Final was set to take place at Wembley on 28 May (where Manchester United would, for the second time in three years, be beaten by Barcelona). UEFA rules insist that no games should take place for fourteen days before the Final, forcing the Cup Final to be played on the weekend of the penultimate round of Premier League games.
This time, the programme was not suspended or re-scheduled, as it is for England Internationals. The League programme went ahead on the same day as the Final. Coincidentally, Manchester City and Stoke would have played each other in the League that day, leaving only nine matches to distract from the Final. Four were played at 12.45 on Cup Final day, the other five on Sunday at 4.00pm.
Even then, Manchester United’s lunch-time win to secure their third successive League title (the second time they had achieved this) overshadowed the Cup Final, and particularly their neighbours’ success, which should have been allowed to stand alone and celebrated without distraction.
One hundred and forty years had passed. What had once been the great glory of English football had become something to be pushed around, got out of the way any old how. Increasingly, teams were seeing the Cup as an unwanted distraction from the day to day business of League positions, where money could be made. It had always been a distraction, but it had been a wonderful one, filled with a magic of its own, a dream of glory. Now, it didn’t make anybody any money. It never did, that was it’s whole point, but now clubs sent out weakened sides, squad players and youth teamers, paying lip service to glory and thinking more of the grind.
And there was more disservice to come.
(all Finals played at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff up to and including 2006, and the New Wembley Stadium thereafter)
2001/02 Arsenal 2 Chelsea 0
2002/03 Arsenal 1 Southampton 0
2003/04 Manchester United 3 Millwall 0
2004/05 Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0 (aet)
(Arsenal win 5-4 on penalties)
2005/06 Liverpool 3 West Ham United 3 (aet)
(Liverpool win 3-1 on penalties)
2006/07 Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0 (aet)
2007/08 Portsmouth 1 Cardiff City 0
2008/09 Chelsea 2 Everton 1
2009/10 Chelsea 1 Portsmouth 0
2010/11 Manchester City 1 Stoke City 0
The fourth decade of the FA Cup’s second century featured twelve clubs, and six winners. Arsenal, with three, were the most successful team, and there were two wins for Chelsea, with both teams winning back to back Finals. Manchester United and Chelsea also reached three Finals, with Chelsea losing one of theirs and United the decade’s biggest losers, with two defeats. Two Finals were, shamefully, decided by penalties. Portsmouth were the surprise winners of the decade whilst Stoke closed out this era as the only First-Time Finalists. United’s 2007 defeat kept them from securing their Fourth Double, whilst their conquerors, Chelsea, went on to record their own Double, the seventh club to do so and the eleventh overall, three years later.
A Century had passed since the FA Cup began. It had progressed from public schoolboys playing before a crowd of 3,000 at Kensington Oval to professional clubs before 100,000 at the Empire Stadium. The Centenary Cup Final was a grand occasion, celebrated as such with banners and emblems representing each of the Cup’s (then-) thirty-eight Winners. Fittingly, the Cup Final represented the North-South divide that had dominated the ancient trophy’s first two decades, although it would have been a more exact fit if the North had been represented by a team from west of the Pennines. But it was Leeds United who won their first and only Cup, ending Arsenal’s hopes of wining successive Finals, and adding to that tally of Winners.
Had they won or even drawn their last League game, played five days after the Final, Leeds would have secured the Double, twelve months after Arsenal had become the fourth club to achieve that feat. But defeat at Wolverhampton saw the League go to Derby County.
The Final was not a classic, though the Third Place Play-Off achieved a record by becoming the first FA Cup tie to be settled via a penalty shoot-out, twice losers Birmingham City achieving a measure of success by beating Midlands rivals, Stoke City. Penalty shoot-outs would not become a regular feature of the Cup for another two decades.
The longest Cup-tie ever happened this season, in the Fourth Qualifying Round, when Alvechurch needed eleven hours of play to beat Oxford City, the game going to a Fifth Replay before being settled. Ted McDougall of Bournemouth set a Cup record in their First Round 11-0 victory over non-League Margate, by scoring nine of his side’s goals.
But the 1971/72 season, for fans of a certain vintage, will be forever remembered for a delayed Third Round tie. Newcastle United vs Hereford United was postponed twice before the game ended in a draw. The replay was held the day of the Fourth Round and thus appeared on Match of the Day, as a result of which John Motson’s television career was made, and Ronnie Radford’s wonder goal that forced extra-time was seen by the country, and has been available upon mental replay ever since. Radford’s crashing shot from thirty yards was one of the most spectacular goals of all time, and Hereford went on to score again in extra-time, to become the first non-League team to knock out a First Division club.
Their fame led directly to Hereford being voted into the Fourth Division that summer, at the expense of Barrow.
As in 1972, the 1973 Final saw the holders back at Wembley, only to fall at the final hurdle for a second successive season, but this was a minor consideration in the face of one of the greatest ever Cup Final shocks. Leeds, a team consisting of eleven full International players, were faced by Sunderland, a Second Division team containing no (then-) Internationals at all. It was one of the biggest mis-matches in a Cup Final ever, but Sunderland won it, with Ian Porterfield scoring the only goal, midway through the first half. It was the first Cup win by a Second Division team in forty-two years, and it would be the first of five Second Division Finalists in a decade, three of whom, including the Wearsiders, would win the trophy.
Sunderland’s victory was compounded by their having, in the semi-finals, denied Arsenal the chance to become the first team since Blackburn Rovers in 1884-86 to reach three successive Finals.
Vital though Portfield’s goal was, for those of us who watched the Final, the game is most remembered for Jimmy Montgomery’s save, twenty minutes from time. Montgomery, one of the greatest keepers never to play for his country, had dived full-length to his left to parry a diving header from Trevor Cherry, only for the ball to drop to the feet of Peter Lorimer, six yards out. Lorimer, who had been officially recorded as having the hardest shot in football, let fly from point-blank range, an equaliser all the way. But Montgomery got himself off the ground and in front of the ball, deflecting it up against the crossbar and away to safety.
It was one of the greatest saves of all time and, for people of my generation, second only to Banks v Pele in the 1970 World Cup. My instant thought was that if Leeds couldn’t score there, they would never score, and it’s impossible not to think that that was what went through the players’ minds. The Cup is about the underdog, the Giant-Killer. There has been only one Final since where the same magnitude of shock has been felt.
In the Third Place Play-Off, Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Arsenal 3-1, but it is a mark of the complete indifference in which the game was held that, instead of being played on the evening before the Final, it was delayed three months, until the eve of the 1973/74 season.
That year saw Liverpool win their second Cup, comfortably beating Newcastle United 3-0. Steve Heighway, in scoring the second Liverpool goal, became the first player since the Fifties to score in two different Finals, and the result might have been even greater but for the erroneous disallowing of a goal from full-back Alec Lindsay when the game was scoreless. Lindsay was given offside after cracking in a fierce shot from a very tight angle, the officials having been bemused by a Kevin Keegan dummy that saw the ball put into Lindsay’s path by a Newcastle defender instead of a Liverpool player.
The Final is remembered as being the legendary Bill Shankley’s last game as Liverpool manager. As was his custom every year, Shankley tendered his resignation to the Directors, but was stunned when they accepted it, appointing his assistant, Bob Paisley to succeed him. The decision broke Shankley’s heart.
Newcastle’s route to Wembley that year was dogged by controversy in the Sixth Round, when they staged a recovery from 3-1 down, reduced to ten men, to beat Nottingham Forest 4-3. However, the game had been marred by a home pitch invasion after Forest’s third goal. Two Forest defenders were injured in the melee, but the match restarted with the agreement of both captains.
Nevertheless, Forest made an official complaint after the game, demanding that the result be overturned and Newcastle disqualified. It was argued that the Magpies had gotten through on merit, given their circumstances when the gave resumed. The FA’s solution was to declare the result void and order the match replayed. Newcastle won the tie legitimately after a replay.
In the final appearance of the unwanted Third Place Play-Off, Burnley became its last winner, beating the perennially unsuccessful Leicester City.
It had taken ninety-seven years to produce the first London Derby Final, but it took only another eight for the second. West Ham United were paired with First-Time Finalists, Fulham, also of the Second Division. It was Bobby Moore’s second appearance as a Cup Final Captain, ironically in Fulham colours against his old club, but there was to be no romance in 1975. West Ham’s Alan Taylor became the youngest player to score in a Wembley Final, netting twice in five minutes.
Both teams reached the Final via semi-final replays, West Ham defeating Ipswich Town, who had already required three replays to knock out Leeds United in the Sixth Round.
West Ham are the last team to win the Cup with an all-English line-up, including their unused substitute. It is unlikely that this will ever happen again.
The Second Division’s run of success was extended in 1976, with Southampton not only reaching the Final, their first since 1902 as members of the Southern League, but emulating Sunderland in beating First Division Manchester United with a late goal from Bobby Stokes. It also brought a Winners medal to his team-mate, Jim McCalliog, a member of the Sheffield Wednesday team beaten in the Final exactly a decade earlier.
This match is probably also the only Cup Final to be immortalised in a pseudo-folk song by Jasper Carrott.
Manchester United had been horribly embarrassed by their defeat to Southampton, though the 1976 Final came only twelve months after the two clubs had been contemporaries in the Second Division. They got their opportunity to redeem themselves a year later, emulating their local rivals’ twice-performed feat of returning to Wembley to win the Cup on a second successive appearance.
To achieve this, United had to burst the ambitions of the Bob-Paisley led Liverpool, out not only to win the Double but to combine this into a unique Treble that would incorporate the European Cup. Though this feat (and one better) had been accomplished by Glasgow Celtic in 1967, it had not been done in the five major European Leagues (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish). Liverpool were League holders, and would go on to emulate United in bringing the European Cup to England, but United would deny them their Treble.
The Final was settled by a flurry of three goals in five minutes, United striking first, Liverpool equalising, and United scoring a bizarre winner when a shot drifting wide struck striker Jimmy Greenhoff in the chest and floated into the net. Just as McCalliog in the previous Final, Greenhoff became a Cup-Winner twelve years after being on the losing side in his only other appearance.
Ironically, Manchester United would go on to complete the Treble denied to Liverpool, twenty-two years later. Doubly ironically, as with Bill Shankley in 1974, the Final was to be the last match for United Manager Tommy Docherty, fired for abusing his position as manager to conduct an affair with one of his subordinate’s wives.
There was another First-Time Winner the following year, as Ipswich Town overcame the odds to beat the highly-fancied Arsenal. This was the third Final of this decade to be decided by a single goal, scored twelve minutes from time by midfielder Roger Osborne. The Cup-Winner never kicked a ball for Ipswich again. Osborne was substituted before the game re-started, officially due to ‘exhaustion’ (it was later revealed that he had actually fainted and had to be revived on the pitch, though at the time it looked as if the real reason he couldn’t carry on was the way his ten team-mates had jumped on him!)
Osborne was injured during pre-season training and sold without playing for the club again.
Ipswich’s win was the thirteenth consecutive win by different teams, since Tottenham Hotspur had retained the Cup in 1962, equalling the previous Cup record of thirteen wins by different clubs between 1931 and 1949.
Arsenal were back at Wembley the following season, facing Manchester United in their third Final in four seasons. The game is regularly called a classic, but for 85 minutes it was far from that, being a dull, one-sided affair in which Arsenal were cruising to victory until United scored what appeared to be a consolation goal. Within a minute, they forced an equaliser and were on course for extra-time in which it was assumed they would overcome mentally beaten opponents. However, with only a minute left, a seemingly desperate Arsenal rebounded with a dramatic winner, that could hardly be denied as deserved.
For Arsenal, Brian Talbot – a member of the Cup-Winning Ipswich team twelve months previously – set a unique record as the first and so far only player to win successive Winners’ medals with different clubs. And with Alan Sunderland scoring the winner, Talbot received credit for Arsenal’s opening goal, which I have always believed was struck simultaneously by he and Sunderland.
Having failed to reach the 1973 Final, Arsenal had only seven years to wait before becoming the first team in over ninety years to appear in three consecutive Finals, though their win against Manchester United would be their only success. West Ham United, the fourth Second Division Finalist since 1973, would win the Cup by a single goal in the third London Derby Final.
Both Finalists required replays to reach Wembley, Arsenal needing three replays to achieve their goal. West Ham’s Paul Allen replaced Howard Kendall as the youngest ever Finalist, and was denied a near-certain late goal by a cynical professional foul on the edge of the area when clean through. In modern times, it would be a clear red card, but in keeping with the history of the Cup, only a yellow card was shown, reserving the record of never having a sending-off in the Final.
A decade that began with the Cup’s Centenary Final ended with its hundredth Final, as Tottenham Hotspur played Manchester City. For Spurs, it was assumed victory would come, it being a year ending in 1, and the club having won the Cup in 1901, 1921 and 1961 (it may be assumed that if War had not intervened, Spurs would have claimed the 1941 Cup).
Since Wembley had melded itself to Cup Final Day, each year one of the country’s principal stadiums, grounds that expected to hold semi-finals on a regular basis, had been nominated to host any replay, of which there had only been one. In 1981, the FA decided to change this arrangement by stipulating the Empire Stadium itself as the official Replay venue.
As if to honour this, three successive Finals would need replays.
Manchester City’s Tommy Hutchison would emulate Bert Turner’s unwanted record by scoring for both teams in the Final, first by heading a spectacular opening goal, then by deflecting a weak free-kick past his own goalkeeper. Tottenham Hotspur, who had become the first team to reached the Top 10 with an FA Cup Final song (‘Ossie’s Dream’, about which…), included both their Argentine players in the Final, the first of that nationality to do so.
Ricardo Villa had an undistinguished game and was substituted just before the Spurs equaliser, but he was the star of a seesaw replay which saw the lead change hands twice before Villa set off on a mazy dribble that saw him score the winner, a goal hailed as the greatest Cup-Winning goal of all time.
In its second century, the Cup continued to give football in England some of its greatest and most memorable moments. As it moved forward into the Eighties, it would still remain the most dramatic and romantic competition of them all.
(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley)
1971/72 Leeds United 1 Arsenal 0
1972/73 Sunderland 1 Leeds United 0
1973/44 Liverpool 3 Newcastle United 0
1974/75 West Ham United 2 Fulham 0
1975/76 Southampton 1 Manchester United 0
1976/77 Manchester United 2 Liverpool 1
1977/78 Ipswich Town 1 Arsenal 0
1978/79 Arsenal 3 Manchester United 2
1979/80 West Ham United 1 Arsenal 0
1980/81 Tottenham Hotspur 1 Manchester City 1 (aet)
R: Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester City 2
The first decade of the FA Cup’s second century featured only eleven clubs, the lowest for a full decade since the Victorian era, and nine winners again, with only Newcastle United and Manchester City failing to win the trophy. This time, only West Ham United won the Cup twice, the second time as representatives of the Second Division. Amazingly, three Second Division clubs won the Cup in this decade (whilst Fulham were beaten finalists), but there has been no winner from the lower tiers since West Ham. Arsenal reached Wembley no less than four times, and Liverpool and Manchester United three, though all three teams only won a single trophy, whilst Leeds United made two appearances, with only one win. Southampton and Ipswich Town were the decade’s only First Time Winners, whilst the decade ended with another draw, but this time and henceforth, Wembley itself would host the replay.
So we move on, into the Edwardian era, that last golden afternoon as so many have described it, before the world it represented was destroyed in the mud and blood of Flanders fields. It was a decade of slow development, of a Cup that, halfway through the decade, took a half-hearted step towards the format we recognise today.
It was still a tournament dominated by the professional clubs of the North and Midlands. Tottenham Hotspurs’ success in the last Final of the third decade might have brought the Cup back to London after nearly twenty years, but it was an isolated success: the Final might have taken place in London, but the Cup would not rest there for another twenty years.
The Intermediate Round introduced in 1900/01 was retained for another four seasons, involving a complex combination, each year, of byes at various stages into different rounds, with not even the entire First Division getting byes into the First Round Proper, and clubs from the powerful Southern League getting preferential treatment ahead of Second Division teams.
Sheffield United were the first Cup-winners of the decade, though they made a heavy fist of it in the end, requiring three games to win the semi-final and two to win the actual Cup. Unusually, the Replay was held at the Crystal Palace, like the first match, a situation that would not recur for seventy-nine years.
Although the competition was now becoming a well-regulated, almost staid tournament, there was a flashback to the illogic of the Cup’s formative years. Second Division club, New Brighton Tower, were given a bye into the Intermediate Round, where they were drawn to play non-League qualifiers, Oxford City, and this arrangement stood, despite the fact that New Brighton Tower had folded in the summer of 1901 and been replaced in Division 2 before a single ball had been kicked in the 1901/02 Cup!
As a result, Oxford City enjoyed a nostalgic walkover into the First Round Proper. Even more bizarrely, New Brighton’s replacements, Doncaster Rovers, had to enter the Cup at the Third Qualifying Round.
If I may be allowed a personal point, the 1902/03 Cup was the first to be competed for by Manchester United, as opposed to Newton Heath. The Reds didn’t get very far, unlike their Lancashire neighbours, Bury, who reached their second Final in four seasons. They were very much the underdogs against Derby County, despite the latter losing their leading scorer, Steve Bloomer, to injury. But to everybody’s surprise, Bury not only won the Cup but recorded the record victory margin, 6-0. Derby apparently played so badly, the Bury keeper had nothing to do, and the club’s nick-name of ‘The Shakers’ derives from this game and result.
Bury – whose aggregate score in Cup Finals is 10-0 – are the only club after Wanderers to have won the Cup more than once whilst remaining undefeated in Finals.
The number of Cup entrants was still expanding, and each year the FA’s resistance to increasing the number of Proper Rounds grew more puzzling. A second preliminary Round was added in 1903/04, and a Sixth Qualifying Round the following season. Manchester City took the Cup to Manchester for the first time, beating Bolton Wanderers in what, surprisingly given the base of operations of the Football League, was the first all-Lancashire final, and Aston Villa secured their fourth win the following year.
Villa’s Final reversed an unexpected trend in Cup Final attendances. After Spurs had drawn 110,000 to the Crystal Palace in 1901, attendances had declined dramatically over the following three seasons, with Manchester City’s victory taking place before a gate of just over 61,000, but figures bounced back in 1905, with 101,000 filling the ground.
By this time, the Cup had reached a seriously imbalanced state, with nine Qualifying Rounds under various names, and a rigidly maintained three Rounds Proper. It was overdue time for a reorganisation that would better suit the number and status of the entrants. The Football League had, this season, expanded to 40 clubs, in two Divisions of 20, which needed to be taken into account.
So the Cup reduced itself to five qualifying Rounds (one Preliminary, four Qualifying) and restored the Cup Proper to four rounds. But it was not a case of the forty League clubs entering the Cup at Round One, with twenty-four survivors from the Qualifying Rounds, oh no. Twenty-nine League teams enjoyed that status,, with the rest coming in at various Qualifying Round stages. And, in order to provide sixty-four clubs at this stage, eleven non-League clubs were also given byes to the First Round.
Though the structure of the Cup was growing ever more familiar, it was still an indication of the nature of the game in the Edwardian era that 11 non-Leaguers were given preference to the equivalent number of League clubs in terms of when they entered the Cup.
One Third Qualifying Round tie provides an odd foretaste of the Cup’s future, and led to a rule change. In the Third Qualifying Round, Chelsea were drawn to play Crystal Palace. The same day, however, they were required to play Burnley in the Second Division. That neither game was to be postponed, that Chelsea were seriously required to play two matches simultaneously, foreshadowed the long years of rivalry between the Football Association and the Football League over control of the game.
And, foreshadowing today’s sad reality, Chelsea opted to prioritise their promotion battle, choosing the first team to meet Burnley and sending out the Reserves to be humiliated 7-1 by Palace. As a consequence, the FA introduced a new Law, requiring clubs to field their strongest teams in the Cup. A rule far more honoured in the breach than the observance in the Twenty-First Century.
The eventual winners were Everton, their first victory after two previous defeats.
The Cup’s new format only lasted one season, with a Fifth Qualifying Round being reintroduced the following season. The number of non-League teams given byes into Round One was increased to sixteen, and the Round required no less than thirteen replays (four going to second replays). The Wednesday joined their Sheffield rivals, United, in winning a second Cup.
The 1907/08 season set a record that stands to the present day, with thirteen First Division teams going out to lover level clubs. Unsurprisingly, three of the semi-final places were occupied by Second Division clubs, a situation not repeated until exactly a century later, in 2008. The only First Division survivors, Newcastle United (who finished fourth), won their semi-final against Fulham 6-0, still a record at this stage, but were comfortably beaten by Wolverhampton Wanderers, only the second Second Division winners.
By this time, Newcastle United had reached three Finals in four years and lost them all. They were spared further potential embarrassment the following season by Manchester United in the semi-final, with the Reds going on to claim their first Cup win. But neither Manchester club would feature prominently in the Cup’s history for many years, and decades, yet.
United’s opponents, Bristol City, have not returned to the Cup Final, placing them alongside Queen’s Park among clubs who have never won the Cup. It would be forty years before another team would reach the Final yet never, to date, lift the Cup.
Newcastle’s time would come in 1910, though not at Crystal Palace but at Goodison Park in a replay, winning the Cup at the fourth time of asking. It’s an odd quirk of the FA Cup’s history that only one club has failed to win the Cup after losing on its first three appearances in the Final.
This was the last year for the second FA Cup. When Newcastle returned the trophy, it was retired and presented, as a retirement gift, to the FA President Lord Kinnaird. The trophy is still in existence today. It was bought at auction in 2005 by then-Birmingham City, now West Ham United co-Chairman, David Gold, and is on permanent display at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
To replace it, the FA ordered a new, larger, re-designed trophy, the F.A. Cup as we recognise it today, though the 1911 trophy is no longer in use itself. It was designed by Fattorini’s of Bradford and, fittingly, was won in its first season by Bradford City, beating Newcastle United (again!) in a replay at Old Trafford. The replay was by far the most successful in terms of attendance to date, with 69,000 at the Crystal Palace, and an impressive 58,000 coming to Manchester.
The Edwardian decade, when football, and the Cup, was still played in an atmosphere of innocence. The Cup was now forty years old, yet it was still developing. Another decade would see it achieve its half-century. No-one could foresee how the middle years of that approaching decade would be ripped out.
(all Finals played at Crystal Palace unless otherwise stated)
1901/02 Sheffield United 1 Southampton 1
R: Sheffield United 2 Southampton 1
1902/03 Bury 6 Derby County 0
1903/04 Manchester City 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
1904/05 Aston Villa 2 Newcastle United 0
1905/6 Everton 1 Newcastle United 0
1906/07 The Wednesday 2 Everton 1
1907/08 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Newcastle United 1
1908/09 Manchester United 1 Bristol City 0
1909/10 Newcastle United 1 Barnsley 1
R: Newcastle United 2 Barnsley 0 (Goodison Park, Liverpool)
1910/11 Bradford City 0 Newcastle United 0 (aet)
R Bradford City 1 Newcastle United 0 (Old Trafford, Manchester)
The fourth decade saw another new record of fifteen different finalists, with Newcastle United the most prolific, appearing in five Finals, albeit losing four of them. Everton were the only other club to appear in two Finals. There were ten different winners in the fourth decade, a different holder every year, with five clubs winning their first Cup, including both Manchester clubs. Of the losers, only Bristol City did not have Cup success ahead or behind them. Three Finals required replays, as many as the three decades prior to that, one of which took place at the same venue as the Final itself, an anomaly that would take eighty years to become the rule.
The Cup’s third decade was a decade of consolidation. The Qualifying Rounds, three Rounds Proper, semi-finals and Final format was maintained throughout the next ten years with only minimal adjustment to reflect the ever-increasing number of entrants, which soon passed 200.
Curiously, the Cup Proper was unchanged throughout the decade, and the extra entrants were absorbed into an expanded Qualifying Round set-up. First, a Preliminary Round was added in 1892, and then, in 1896, a Fifth Qualifying Round. The refusal to increase the number of Proper Rounds hit its peak in the 1900/01 season, in the introduction of an Intermediate Round, with the ten survivors of the Qualifying Rounds drawn against ten clubs given byes to this level.
That it would have been simpler to increase the number of Proper Rounds, especially with regard to the expansion of the Football League, and the immediate impact of the Southern League, was apparently not in the FA’s mind.
The Football League, that had started with twelve clubs and quickly expanded to fourteen, had been almost doubled in size in 1892 when it absorbed the failing Football Alliance as a Second Division. But League status on its own did not automatically command a bye into the Cup Proper. For the sixteen First Division clubs, that was the case, and six Second Division clubs to make up numbers.
Though I don’t have access to any interim tables to prove it, based on final Second Division positions, I would strongly believe these half dozen clubs to be the top six in the Division at the relevant cut-off date.
The rest of the Second Division clubs would enter the Cup during the Qualifying rounds, as far back at the Third Qualifier, even when there were five such rounds!
I mentioned above the Southern League. As is well known, the Football League was launched in the North West, and the Alliance itself established a catchment area that went little further than the Midlands. The Southern League was established in 1894 for, as its name made obvious, football clubs in the south of England. As these were separated from the Football League mainly on the grounds of geography, it became the home of strong clubs such as Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur.
Both of these clubs would reach the Cup Final as ‘non-League’ teams, (though that term had yet to grow into its full meaning), with Southampton defeated finalists in 1900, beaten 4-0 by Bury, whilst Spurs ended the third decade by lifting the Cup after beating Sheffield United in a replay. In doing so, they became the only ‘non-League’ club to win the trophy after the Football League was formed.
And at this point a special mention should be made of Notts County, Cup-winners in 1894 as members of the Second Division, the first club to win the Cup from outside the top flight of English football. Notts County’s feat would be repeated half a dozen times down the decades, but none of their second tier successors, not even Spurs, would win the Cup from a position in the Qualifying Rounds.
The Cup’s first decade had belonged to the Southern amateurs, the old boys and gentlemen. Its second had belonged to the North, the North-West in particular. So it’s entirely appropriate that the Cup’s third decade should be dominated by the Midlands. Their clubs would appear in the first eight Finals of this era, and would come away as Cup Winners on six of those occasions.
Just as the second decade had begun with one final flourish from the past, so too the third: the 1891 Final was played at the familiar Kennington Oval, but that was to be the last Final to take place at the Cup’s original home. It had hosted twenty of the twenty-one Finals to date, two of which had gone to Replays elsewhere, but after West Bromwich Albion secured the Cup, at the third time of asking, the Cup went elsewhere.
Its first two venues were far removed from the Oval, indeed from London. Wolverhampton Wanderers would break their duck in Manchester, at the Fallowfield Stadium in 1893, and Notts County win their only Cup a year later, at Goodison Park, in Liverpool. The following season, the Cup would return to London, with the Crystal Palace taking over the duty of hosting the competition for the next twenty years.
Notts County’s win in 1894 provided the Cup with a second Final Hat Trick, three goals from Jimmy Logan to match William Townley’s feat for Blackburn Rovers. Only one other player in the 121 years that followed has achieved the same feat.
Back at Crystal Palace, Aston Villa won the first of their Cups. It was the last season in which the first trophy was presented. As related before, ‘the little tin pot’ was stolen, in September 1895, whilst on display in a Birmingham shop, fulfilling Albert Warburton’s prediction, in 1893. Villa were fined £25 towards the cost of making an exact replica.
Decades later, the self-professed thief revealed that it had been melted down to make forged half crowns, but his description of the theft did not align with the known facts, so the romantic possibility exists, however faintly, that one day the trophy may be re-discovered.
Aston Villa won the Cup that year by a single goal, scored after only thirty seconds (pity anyone not in their place at kick-off). This record for fastest goal stood for 114 years, until beaten by Louis Saha for Everton, in 2009.
The growing number of entrants to the Cup had seen the 1895 Final pushed back in April for the first time. The following year, the FA introduced the Fifth Qualifying Round to cope with the numbers. Ten Second Division teams entered the Cup at the First Qualifying Round, given no great advantage than clubs in the Southern League, The Combination, or any other of the growing number of regional Leagues that are the history of today’s English League System (still better known as the Pyramid).
But the gap between Division 2 and non-League was evidently not very great in that era. Only four Second Division teams survived to reach the First Round Proper, with no fewer than six non-League survivors.
As for the Cup, that went to Yorkshire for the first time, won by Sheffield’s The Wednesday.
Aston Villa regained the trophy the following season, emulating Preston in winning the Double, something that would not occur again for 66 years. Indeed, Villa were unique in being the only team to win both Cup and League the same day. Though the Cup was growing in popularity every year, it had yet to reach its traditional status as the last domestic match of the season, played in isolation. Whilst Villa were beating Everton 3-2 (all goals coming in the first half), their final League contenders, Derby County, lost to leave the Birmingham side uncatchable.
For the 1898/99 season, the last Nineteenth Century Cup, the Football League expanded its two Divisions to eighteen clubs each. With the First Division still favoured by a bye into the First Round Proper, this left four additional places. Three of these went to leasing Second Division clubs, but the FA chose to recognise the stature of the Southern League by giving a bye to one of its leading clubs, Southampton. This was a sign of things to come.
The Cup would make a return visit to Sheffield, with United beating Derby County in the Final. Derby would be the last Midlands team to reach Crystal Palace in this decade.
Though the Cup’s format of Preliminary Round, five Qualifying Rounds, three Rounds Proper seemed set in stone, the situation regarding byes into various stages of the competition began to become more complex each year. For the 1899/1900 competition, only seventeen of the eighteen Division 1 clubs received byes into the First Round Proper, with Glossop North End, two Second Division teams and three Southern League teams receiving byes into the Third Qualifying Round.
And the strength of the Southern League was demonstrated by Southampton becoming the first ‘non-League’ finalists, although they were roundly beaten, 4-0, by Bury.
Things grew even more complicated in the first FA Cup to take place wholly in the Twentieth Century. The ever-increasing number of entrants led the FA to create an Intermediate Round, between the Qualifying and Proper Round. Two First Division teams, six second Division teams and two Southern League teams entered the Cup at the Intermediate Round, to face the ten Qualifying Rounds survivors, and the remaining sixteen First Division teams, three further Second Division teams and one Southern League team entered at Round One Proper.
That highest ranked Southern League team were Tottenham Hotspur. They would go on to become the only ‘non-League’ club to win the Cup, and to start the great Spurs tradition (currently suspended) of winning in years ending with ‘1’.
It was the dawn of the Twentieth Century, and much that we now know of the Cup came to life in that season. The Final, at Crystal Palace against Sheffield United, was the first to be filmed, for Pathe Newsreel. It was the first Final to attract a crowd of over 100,000, although the irony was that a Replay would be required, at Bolton Wanderers’ ground, Burnden Park, before a crowd of just over 20,000. And Spurs would be the first to tie ribbons in their club colours, to the handles of the Cup.
What’s more, Spurs striker Sandy Brown set a record by becoming the first player to score in every round of the Cup, including both Final and Replay, something only seven men after him have equaled, and none in the last 45 years. Technically, he wasn’t the first, Aston Villa’s Archie Hunter having scored in every game in 1886/87, but as Villa’s run included a bye through the Fourth Round, I feel justified in crediting Sandy Brown as the first.
And the Final was not without controversy, for Sheffield United’s equaliser at Crystal Palace, the goal that necessitated a Replay (extra time was not played) never crossed the line. The Pathe film later established that the ball had never gone closer than a foot from the line, making that the first ever example of goal-line technology. Over a century later, we have only just begun to make use of the technologies during games!
(all Finals played at Crystal Palace unless otherwise stated)
1891/92 West Bromwich Albion 3 Aston Villa 0 (Kennington Oval)
1892/93 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Everton 0 (Fallowfield Stadium, Manchester)
1893/94 Notts County 4 Bolton Wanderers 1 (Goodison Park, Liverpool)
1894/95 Aston Villa 1 West Bromwich Albion 0
1895/96 The Wednesday 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
1896/97 Aston Villa 3 Everton 2
1897/98 Nottingham Forest 3 Derby County 1
1898/99 Sheffield United 4 Derby County 1
1899/1900 Bury 4 Southampton 0
1900/01 Tottenham Hotspur 2 Sheffield United 2 (no et)
R Tottenham Hotspur 3 Sheffield United 1 (Burnden Park, Bolton)
The third decade saw a new record of thirteen different finalists, with Aston Villa the most prolific, appearing in three Finals. Everton and Derby County both appeared in two Finals and lost both. Aston Villa were also the only club to win more than a single Final in this decade. Bolton Wanderers and Southampton make up the list of losing Finalists in this decade, but all four cubs would go on to win the Cup in the future. Aston Villa and West Brom were the only previous winners this decade, with eight new names being added to the Roll of Honour.
I watched Manchester United’s latest game yesterday afternoon, the first time I’d seen the Reds play since the extremely fortunate FA Cup victory over Sheffield United a fortnight ago: both games since then fell foul of my shift-patterns. Despite the pleasant surprise of three shots from United in the first twenty minutes – one of them actually on target though not dangerous – it was more of the same. The late goal conceded came as a surprise only because Southampton had, up to that point, shown as little prospect of scoring as the home team.
That’s the biggest thing at present: there are absolutely no expectations of anything when United play, and there are especially no expectations of scoring. I’ve recently been watching a selection of YouTube videos of highlights of old United games, Eighties, Seventies even, and the difference is palpable. Even when at their worse, these old sides demonstrated a constant willingness to attack, and an ability to score goals. The current United line-up, no matter what permutation, is clueless. They are lacking in all confidence. Worse, they are lacking in idea. Even at their most forthright and pressing, they are distinctly a team who no longer now how to score goals.
I continue to blame Louis van Gaal, and even he’s blaming himself. The booing was pretty vociferous yesterday, and he’s said the fans were right to boo. The commentators yesterday condemned it back-handedly, saying the fans should get behind their team, but when that team offers what it has been offering all season, how can any thinking fan get behind them? What should they do? Lie blatantly?
Surprisingly, there are still people who – seriously, and not just because they are ABUs, wanting United’s dismay to continue forever – argue that United should retain van Gaal, that he is doing the right things, building a stable team, a disciplined team. United are still fifth even now.
I find this attitude unbelievable. van Gaal has brought this situation about, by the application of his philosophy, to which he clings. It is not working, self-evidently. And equally self-evidently, van Gaal does not know what to do to fix things. He does not know what to do to make his philosophy work on the field, he has neither the will nor the imagination to change things. He has made the team fragile beyond belief: does anyone really think, watching the players when they step out, that they have in them any shred of belief that they can win? Under van Gaal, I have seen too many games against clearly inferior opponents – forgive me Sheffield United, but it’s true – in which the team, individually and collectively, does not know what to do to even get into the Penalty Area.
But van Gaal will not stand down. Come what may, he will have to be sacked if he is to go. He even talks down the chances of improvement. Currently, he is making it plain that United are not seeking new players in the current transfer window, which has only a week left in it. Despite yet another full-back being injured yesterday, van Gaal will not contemplate at least buying a replacement for that position.
His pride, his stubbornness, might in other circumstances be admirable. Here, it only makes him look like a rabbit, frozen in headlights. He is a rabbit in headlights, unable to move, not even to run away to safety.
As for any possible replacement, I admit to only one idea, and that still firmly negative. In the past week, I’d started to relax over the idea of a Jose Mourinho succession. He’d been available for weeks, virtually hanging around outside Old Trafford pleading to be picked up, and United hadn’t made the slightest effort to explore that possibility: the event that could separate me from my club seemed to be receding.
Then the papers broke the story this morning that Mourinho had actually pleaded for the job: a six page letter, detailed breakdowns of how he’d overhaul the team, and a promise to change his managerial ways, at least as to how United would pay under him (the reports didn’t convey whether or not he’d promised he wouldn’t be such a self-centred dickhead but I suppose that was the point on which credibility would have been lost forever).
Between going to and returning from Tesco, no quick thing on a Sunday, the ‘news’ had been furiously denied by Jorge Mendes, Mourinho’s agent, but van Gaal is once more neck deep in the brown and sticky stuff, and the fear lurks not deep below the surface.
There’s another week before the next trial of patience, and it is a trial. Watching United play live is a deadening, lifeless process. Without expectation, without hope, emotion is drained from the experience, to the extent that in the rare event of a goal, it has to be exceptional – as a goal, I mean – before any excitement is created. The reverse is equally true: goals conceded, games lost prompt only a shrug of resignation. This is what we are, on the 24th January 2016, and no route of escape is visible, except, we may hope, at an angle not amongst the standard three hundred and sixty.
Meanwhile, Leicester are back on top of the table. As I type, Arsenal, who have been reduced to ten men, are a goal down to Chelsea, with half an hour played, which will ensure the Foxes a three point lead if the score is perpetuated. Much as I loathe the idea of backing Chelsea, tactics once more come into play.
I’d love to see Leicester win it. If they do, at least I’ll get some overt emotion out of this season. I have no natural connection, no emotional conviction towards Leicester, just a wish to see the apple-cart well and truly upset. It’s more than I dare hope that Manchester United will provide me this season, even as I still watch their games out of commitment.